Le Guin on Taoism, Utopia, and Feminism
March 11, 2004 9:37 AM   Subscribe

The Guardian has a nice interview with Ursula K. Le Guin about utopian science fiction, anthropology, ethnicity in Earthsea and the differences between her two Earthsea trilogies. She also comments on the upcoming miniseries.
The Lathe of Heaven is a taoist novel, not a utopian or dystopian one.... There is an old American saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The novel extends that a bit - "Even if it's broke, if you don't know how to fix it, don't."
posted by KirkJobSluder (20 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I love Lathe of Heaven. I got to reread it when this happened in my little burg.
posted by Danf at 10:10 AM on March 11, 2004

i just finished door into ocean last night, which has been compared to le guin. it was pretty good, if a bit slow to start. i wasn't sure about the ending, but i think she ended it right (i was expecting something different, but it would have been somewhat contrary to the ethos of the book).

anyway, i''ll probably try reading a le guin book after that, and thought any le guin reader might be interested.

(great interview!)
posted by andrew cooke at 10:14 AM on March 11, 2004

After reading the interview, I thought to myself, what an an amazing writer Le Guin is, in the deepest and best sense of the word. Thanks for posting the link, KirkJobSluder!
posted by Stoatfarm at 10:20 AM on March 11, 2004

Is the movie worth seeing?
posted by the fire you left me at 10:35 AM on March 11, 2004

Fire. . the movie is not worth seeing, from what I have heard (although I have not seen it). LeGuin has pretty much distanced herself from it and she commented (recently at a talk in my town) that the director of that film did not want anyone on the set who had actually read the book. However this one was made with her participation. It is very dated, shot of video but still very worth the time.
posted by Danf at 10:43 AM on March 11, 2004

No, I didn't feel the 2002 made-for-TV movie was anywhere near as good as the book. The 1980 made-for-TV movie was quite a bit better--at least as far as both following the actual plot of the book, as well as the themes in the book. However, it was very low-budget (think Dr. Who), and the acting isn't great either. The 2002 version is at least somewhat better-acted, but a good bit of the plot is changed from the book, and the make-you-think factor is watered down quite a bit too.

I'm impressed that Eugene chose it as their community book--it's not an easy book. Or maybe it is, in some ways. The basic plot isn't all that difficult to follow, and it's not that long, but it took me several readings before I felt I was really grasping what LeGuin was trying to say with it. Even now I'm not sure I could put it into words.

Oh, and from the interview, I loved this:
Q: Perhaps you feel a bit out of step with your contemporaries?

UKL: Why should a woman of 74 want to be "in step with" anybody? Am I in an army, or something?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:46 AM on March 11, 2004 [1 favorite]

I haven't clicked the link to the interview yet, and already I have found TWO great quotes:

"Even if it's broke, if you don't know how to fix it, don't."

"Why should a woman of 74 want to be "in step with" anybody?"

further signs of genius...
posted by wendell at 11:32 AM on March 11, 2004

Ursula K. LeGuin taught me everything I ever needed to know about anything
posted by troutfishing at 12:28 PM on March 11, 2004

that I ever needed to know something about.
posted by troutfishing at 12:29 PM on March 11, 2004

her shortstory/novella 'the word for world is forest' blew my freaking mind
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 12:51 PM on March 11, 2004

Thanks, KirkJobSluder, for reminding us that there's something else going on in this world... LeGuin remains one of my favorite authors and lecturers, and I was thrilled to spend another ten minutes in her "presence" reading that transcript. Many, many thanks.
posted by JollyWanker at 2:36 PM on March 11, 2004

A very fun interview ... I enjoyed her wit as well.

Q: Also, why did you make all the wizards male, and give them all those great big staffs? My colleague, Dr Freud of Vienna, would be most interested to hear your rationale behind this...

UKL: You might read what I said above about learning to write like a woman instead of like an honorary man. From me you can tell Dr F. to go smoke a big cigar.
posted by rks404 at 2:51 PM on March 11, 2004 [1 favorite]

I add my thanks, and I agree that the old TV Lathe was far superior to the crappy 2002 one (I've seen both).
posted by languagehat at 3:58 PM on March 11, 2004

I've only read four or five of Le Guin's books and for some reason never thought of reading more. But now I feel a Le Guin binge coming on.

Great interview. Really interesting questions, with answers that more than match.
posted by orange swan at 5:53 PM on March 11, 2004

I too, thank you for sending along the interview! There is simply no one like her in writing or wit. Her stories (including her more "ordinary" material such as Searoad) have meant a great deal to me growing up and today.

Personally, I'm terrified of an Earthsea miniseries, because such things tend to go disastrously in general. I'm annoyed by how little input she's been asked to have on some of the Lathe "movies" and now this. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to refuse to watch it out of protest, or actually subject myself to the inevitable bastardization of my favorite book (The Tombs of Atuan). According to the mini-series link, Ged "falls in love" as he "he journeys to manhood" which could only mean they completely warp his relationship with Tenar, and before I jump off the deep end of total fangirl nuttiness, let me just say Le Guin wrote that eloquently once, and no improvements can or need to be made.

(And why would anyone pronounce it "Jed"? Or make him caucasian? Honestly, such little respect)
posted by nelleish at 6:12 PM on March 11, 2004

her shortstory/novella 'the word for world is forest' blew my freaking mind

for me it was 'the ones who walked away from omelas' :D looks like i'll have to check out 'the word for the wolrd is forest', thanks!
Q: A lot of your fiction could be described as anthropological accounts of fictional societies. I know your father was an anthropologist: do you still read anthropology, and are there any anthropologists whose writing you particularly admire?

UKL: Claude Levi-Strauss has been a great source of fruitful irritation to my mind; so has Clifford Geertz.
i wonder if she likes c. j. cherryh?

also i never read any of her earthsea books, so i'm looking forward to the miniseries! (like scifi channel's dune and riverworld series were alright and i didn't think A&E's 'lathe of heaven' was that bad :)
posted by kliuless at 7:00 PM on March 11, 2004

Taoism, Daoism. It dosn't matter how you spell it, it still sucks.
posted by delmoi at 8:34 PM on March 11, 2004

I also fear an Earthsea movie. One of my biggest fears is that they will attempt to add a bunch of action to a story where most of the plots involve minimal heroic violence. It's not fantasy where the hero pulls out a big sword and starts kicking ass. And I suspect everyone will be anglo.

I can see a relationship with Ged and Tenar and I've always assumed there was one that never went beyond the whole "meaningful look" stage. The ending of Tombs to my memory leaves it at them separated by two different destinies. The second trilogy (to my memory) reverses the roles of Tombs. Tenar got sick of waiting for Ged a long time ago and has made a place and a life for herself, while Ged is lost, powerless, removed from his former life, and struggles to rejoin a culture that has become somewhat unfamiliar to him.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:03 AM on March 12, 2004 [1 favorite]

I fear just about everything the sci fi channel does, but i'm glad that they are looking to new places for source material, there are so many great books that would still make good movies, even with the inevitable loss of quality
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 10:55 AM on March 12, 2004

it still sucks...

like gravity! valley streams running into the rivers and seas :D
posted by kliuless at 7:18 PM on March 12, 2004

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